PA gives six medieval chapels and distinctive villa garden Grade 1 protection

Six medieval chapels and the neoclassical gardens of Villa Ciantar in Pieta have been declared as Grade 1 protected buildings by the Planning Authority


Six medieval chapels and the neoclassical gardens of Villa Ciantar in Pieta have been declared as Grade 1 protected buildings by the Planning Authority. These historic buildings are now safeguarded with the highest protection status, as confirmed in the publication of today’s Government Gazette. The process for these properties to be scheduled was carried out in close collaboration with the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage.

Two of the medieval chapels, that dedicated to St Domenica in Dingli and the Bir Miftuħ chapel in Gudja were both recorded in the 1436 Rollo de Mello list. This list was requested by the Bishop of Malta Senatore de Mello on his arrival to the Island. De Mello, who left a great impact on the local ecclesiastical history, had commissioned four Cathedral canons to research about the benefices and the existing parishes at the time.

The Bir Miftuħ chapel is one of the more refined medieval buildings roofed with pointed arches and built in finely dressed ashlars. Its doorways are all furnished with beautiful hoodmoulds and Melitan mouldings, testament to the chapel’s construction during the height of the Medieval period. Unique to this chapel are the remains of an early 16th-century fresco depicting the last judgement. The existing chapel is smaller than its original size, with the original foundations still clearly evident in its immediate surroundings.

Another medieval chapel, which was given this high protection status is the one found on the Island of Comino, dedicated to the Return of the Holy Family from Egypt. Although the exact construction date of this chapel is unknown, records clearly show that a chapel existed on Comino in the 13th century. The chapel is rectangular in plan with a lateral entrance. On entrance, one finds that the chapel is roofed with several groin vaults as opposed to the usual pointed arches. This chapel has a unique feature in that it retains an iconostasis, a wooden trellis (which replaces the original medieval one) partition which separates the sacred area from the rest of the congregation which harks back to the Greek Orthodox rite.

The medieval chapel of St Michael, more popularly known as Il-Kappella tas-San Ċir or Il-Kappella ta’ San Mikiel is Sanċir, located in the limits of Rabat, is built in typical wet rubble with five pointed arches spanned by slabs, most probably from the same period as both the St. Domenica and Bir Miftuh chapels.

At a later period, buttressing was added on its lateral sides for support. One of the pointed arches incorporates a classical period column and other classical architectural fragments were discovered in its immediate vicinity. The Chapel was first mentioned by Mons Pietru Dusina when he visited the island in 1575.

Also mentioned by Mons Pietru Dusina is the chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Ħal Xluq in Siggiewi, which has also been given a Grade 1 status. In his writings Mons. Dusina refers to the chapel as being very old and in a dilapidated state. The chapel was renovated and repaired in 1583, clearly retaining the original medieval fabric as evidenced by the hoodmoulds and melitan moulding of the main and lateral entrances. The chapel is characterised by finely dressed ashlar masonry and the refinement of the construction methodology and finishing is again testament to the high level reached in construction methodology during the latter Medieval Period.

In Bormla, the unique chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin under the title of ‘tas-Sokkors’ differs from the other in that it is rock-cut and located underground. Originally it was located on the side of the valley leading down to Bormla’s inner harbour. Although no documentation exists, it is believed that the Chapel was in existing during the late Byzantine period (700-800A.D) when it was originally dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. The chapel underwent alterations during the medieval period when its front was enclosed by a façade. During the 17th century, it was used as Bormla’s parish church, only to fall into disuse and eventually into private hands when its existence was completely forgotten. The chapel was rediscovered during the immediate post-war reconstruction of the St Helen’s Gate area and is now preserved underneath a social housing block.

The Authority also gave the highest protection to the surviving gardens of Villa Ciantar in Pieta. The late 18th-century villa and its gardens, known back then as Villa Zammit occupied practically all of the western flank of Pieta’ creek, stretching from Villa Frere to Gwardamangia Hill, with its boundary wall running along the whole length of the road. The garden was laid out on several terraces in a high baroque/neo-classical idiom. The formally laid out gardens were furnished with a variety of garden architecture such as raised walkways, a nymphaeum, triumphal gateways and a tower of four winds which was built on the higher reaches of the garden.

The tower is believed to date to the knight’s period and was utilised for defence purposes during the French blockade. Arched vaults at ground floor, originally forming part of Villa Zammit were given a Grade 2 protection.

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